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ragman

Mill Isle, Ireland

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A tribute to the 1500 plus showbands that used to travel around Ireland in the 1950’s right through to the 1990’s Ireland must be unique in the world, because at it’s high point, there were hundreds of ballrooms, not only located in the cities, but spread across the country, often located “in the middle of nowhere” or perhaps where two country roads crossed

Prior to the showbands, most “bands” in Ireland in the early 50’s were similar to the “big bands” of the 1940’s or orchestras. They usually had ten or twelve musicians who sat behind music stands while a band leader, such as Mick Delahunty or Maurice Mulcahy, took center stage. They played the Irish dance circuit which was mostly made up of some ballrooms and the parochial halls that dotted the island.

The term “Irish showband” generally refers to a particular type of musical act popular in Ireland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Irish Showbands like the Clipper Carlton, the Dixies, the Royal, and hundreds more traveled the length and breadth of Ireland playing to packed houses every night

As most people already know, Ireland has a rich and ancient musical heritage. In fact, Irish traditional music forms the basis for other folk music styles around the world. Yet, Ireland has also had many successes in other forms of music, including rock and more recently pop. However, prior to the 1950’s, Ireland had produced little original music outside of folk, traditional and Ceili.

Irish “popular” music was non existent and purists have argued that creativity in Irish music, if not dead in the 50’s and 60’s, was definitely in a coma. However, I take issue with this view of Irish music history, as I think the Irish Showbands played an integral role in forming the foundation on which the success of the Irish artists that followed was built. For this reason, the Irish Showband will forever hold a special place in the annals of Ireland’s musical landscape.

Various musical influences that came together between 1950 and 1990 to shape the course of Ireland’s musical history. In the early 1950’s and before, the scene was dominated by ceili bands, orchestras and ballad singers. This view leaves out the rich history of the Irish tenors and assumes that the Ceili influence includes the traditional Irish musicians from the earlier part of the 20th century.

Although a direct descendant of the orchestra, the “showband” also took influences from ballads and ceili music in their attempt to be provide an all encompassing repertoire. The nearly part of the sixties saw the folk scene and the showbands running in parallel and they were soon joined by the Beat Group scene which spread from the UK to Belfast, Dublin and eventually most of the major towns across Ireland.

These different genres rarely crossed paths, although many musicians seems to move effortlessly from one to another. As the sixties came to a close, the Irish music scene was in disarray, mainly due to the falling off of the showbands and the ballrooms.

Searching for new sounds, Irish music made many of the changes that have remained to this day. As the folk and traditional influences came together in the form of bands like Planxty, a “new traditional” music was born which has set the pace for all that followed.

Likewise, the showband split into the country and pop scenes, providing the impetus for a host of original bands that have resulted into today’s healthy pop scene featuring bands like the Corrs and Boyzone. And finally, the Beat Groups matured to form the vibrant rock scene in Ireland that gave rise to bands like Thin Lizzy, Stiff Little Fingers, and ultimately U2.

Artwork Comments

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